For several weeks now, public discussion in the media and social networks has been pointing to a reactivation of the Havana-Managua route. The route takes some of the Cuban migrants to Mexican areas such as Tapachula. The numbers are still unclear and the motivations of those who focus on this point seem to be related to the acceleration of entry processes into the United States.
Recently, authorities at Mexico’s National Immigration Institute (INM) suspended the granting of escorts to migrants who have a confirmed appointment with a United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer through the CBP One application.
For months, migrants in southern Mexico avoided a processing requirement by pretending to be in the center or north of the country using VPN apps to make appointments with CBP. They then went to the INM in Tapachula to obtain safe passage that would allow them to travel to the United States border without fear of being arrested and deported along the way.
For this reason, the INM suspended the permits, alleging fraud in the issuance of appointments. The decision sparked protests and migrants threatened to continue their caravans toward Mexico City.
The promise came true when a group of 200 to 400 migrants of various nationalities left the city of Tapachula, Chiapas, on September 25 to make their way to Mexico City. The migrants argue the lack of a solution to their application for immigration documents that would allow them to travel to Mexico’s northern border, while rejecting immigration officials’ busing proposal.
According to reports from Noticias Frontera Sur, the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance began assisting asylum seekers near the Tapachula Ecological Park on the same day.
On the other hand, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is planning changes to the CBP One Advance Travel Authorization. The new Advance Travel Authorization (ATA) process requires a valid passport, approved financial assistance in the United States, and collection of a facial photograph through CBP One. The information is linked to biographical information that applicants have provided to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
If the ATA is denied, migrants cannot travel to the United States under humanitarian programs such as parole, and their access to U.S. territory depends on the discretion of the customs officer upon arrival at the port of entry.
Before implementing the changes, a recommendation period was opened for citizens to consider all proposals related to the ATA. The proposal includes the addition of a new data element related to physical location at the time biometric information is submitted through the CBP One application. A decision that could be based on the same reasons the INM supposedly suspended safe conduct: control fraud while doing so.
Given the increase in irregular migration flows in the region and the inadequate responsiveness of the infrastructures of Mexico and the United States, both nations also agreed to deport migrants found in border cities and send them to their countries of origin. The agreement means Mexico will ease pressure on cities like El Paso, San Diego and Eagle Pass and take more than a dozen measures to prevent migrants from using the rail system to reach the border with the United States.
The decision came after the U.S. government announced protections for nearly half a million Venezuelans in the country, raising concerns about the economic burden on Democratic mayors and governors. In addition, a reinforcement of 800 soldiers was deployed for surveillance and security tasks at the border, adding to the 2,500 soldiers deployed so far. The troops play a supporting role in border protection and are not involved in law enforcement proceedings.
Testimonies on the southern border of Mexico
Located in the state of Chiapas on Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala, Tapachula plays a key role in irregular migration from Central America. The city is home to the main office of the National Migration Institute (INM) in Mexico’s southern region, where migrants must register and request documents that will allow them to travel on their documented journey. This makes Tapachula a place where many migrants seek legalization of their immigration status and often face wait times that can last several months.
In addition, compared to other border cities in the south of the country, Tapachula offers better infrastructure and access to services for migrants, including shelter, medical care and humanitarian assistance from civil organizations. The city is well connected to public transport and train routes such as La Bestia, which allow migrants to continue their journey to northern Mexico.
In recent days, Cuban and regional media have warned of a new massive arrival of Cuban migrants in Tapachula, on the Mexico-Guatemala border. Several publications have reported the figure of around 20,000 Cubans, originally given by Luis García Villagrán, a civil society activist who directs the Center for Human Dignity in that city.
However, the numbers differ significantly from data from the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance (COMAR), which reports that only 2,730 cases of refugee claims from Cuban migrants were processed in August. According to COMAR data, the total number of applications for international protection filed by Cubans in Mexico from January to the end of August was 10,192. Although there may be a group of migrants whose applications have not been processed, the wide disparity in numbers is striking.
Regardless of the discrepancies in the overall numbers, it is clear that this Mexican territory is home to one of the busiest migration routes for Cubans.
Alejandro, a Cuban interviewed by Cuban-American journalist Mario Pentón, assures that in Tapachula “the situation is chaotic” after the office of the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance (COMAR) decided to stop caring for migrants. This office handles supplemental protection that allows individuals with irregular immigration status to arrive at the United States border by air and attend their Border Patrol (CBP) appointment.
Other Cubans who appeared on the show estimated that there are about 2,000 Cubans in the border town, including pregnant women and minors.
Marisol Peña Cobas, a Cuban mother living in Tapachula, Mexico, described her experience in the city to Radio Television Martí as being trapped in a “black hole that swallows migrants.” Her journey with her husband and seven-year-old daughter began as an escape from communism and government repression in Cuba, where they faced interrogation by state security for their opposition to the regime.
They arrived in Tapachula on June 21, 2023 after passing through Nicaragua. However, after almost three months, they have only received a temporary residence permit that allows them to work but offers them few opportunities in a city saturated with thousands of migrants.
“It’s as if we were prisoners, we can’t do anything.” (…) The uncertainty is enormous. I’m afraid to go out on the streets with the girl because I’ve heard of many kidnappings. “Driving on the road is not an option either because they kill people,” he explained.
With just “50 euros, two changes of clothes and the Cuban flag,” Marisol and her family survived through cleaning and construction work. He thanked the Cuban community in exile for their help, which has come together to provide economic support.
Another reported case is that of Yumara, a 29-year-old Cuban woman who was stranded in Tapachula. After visiting the COMAR offices, they told her to “wait at least 15 days because they had received thousands of applications” and they warned her that she should stay in the state because if she were in another area If they were detained, they would “deport them.” to Guatemala.”
According to the young woman’s statement to 14ymedio, her work options as a migrant are limited: she cleans or works as a waitress in a restaurant, where she receives 90 Mexican pesos (about $4) per day, in addition to providing food.
The young woman regrets that many women in her situation migrate to bars and nightclubs due to a lack of opportunities and are often recruited there for prostitution. Yumara shares a room with Mileidis, another Cuban who works at a nightclub. She still remembers her former roommate, a Venezuelan woman who disappeared after going out with a few men and was never heard from again.
The business of irregular migration
The economic gains from the provision of services to migrants (funds for humanitarian assistance, commercial activities such as accommodation, food sales and transport) have turned migration into an economic sector that benefits various actors. This includes both governments and companies as well as service providers in transit areas. It also opens opportunities for criminal groups and criminal organizations, as in the case of Coyotaje or human trafficking.
There are agencies dedicated to reselling tickets in the form of “tourist” packages, with prices varying between $1,380 and $2,200 per reservation, according to a search on the social network Facebook. But social networks are also full of offers for “accompaniment” from Nicaragua to Mexico. The “offer” includes entry and irregular transit through the territories of Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico; Flight routes that are not free of risks for migrants.
Coyotaje Services, as the hiring of a guide to accompany the transfer of irregular migrants is called in the region, provides everything from reception at the airport, transportation to the city of Tapachula, accommodation, meals, “security” to delivery of the safe conduct, that they just eliminated. This “package” costs around $700 to support a “work team,” a euphemism for the members of the human trafficking network.
Amid the desperation that drives many Cubans to seek a new start in the United States, regardless of migration route, there is an underworld of fraud, extortion and kidnapping.
Among the posts found on Facebook, it is noticeable that several traffickers have expanded their services to manage appointments in the CBP One application (an application that allows migrants to make an appointment to apply for asylum in the United States) . The offer becomes relevant against the background of rumors suggesting that access to an application for international protection at the border with the United States or to a parole on humanitarian grounds is more accessible and faster from Mexican territory.
The measures taken by the current US administration to curb irregular migration flows – CBP One and humanitarian parole – appeared to have achieved their goal. However, the alternatives implemented have been very selective in terms of the migrant profile that has access to them and are not efficient enough to cope with the demand for requests they receive on a daily basis.
Although they may have curbed the irregular migration projects of Cuban citizens, they are not enough to reduce the country’s migration potential. that is, preventing people from wanting to emigrate. As a result, and given that living conditions in the country have not improved, it is a matter of time before flows increase again.
In return, Mexico’s recent measures increase the vulnerability of migrants who decide to continue their journey. Their irregular status exposes them to organized crime or detention by authorities and possible deportation.
If they stay in the city, the delay in resolving their cases leads to higher maintenance costs – rent, food, cleaning – without enough secure and formal job offers.